Posted by: Ed Deiss | September 6, 2019

You are Worth It All

I have always been one that can’t sit for too long, and having a desk job, got to get up and move from time to time.  I am fortunate to work next to the scenic Virginia State Capitol grounds in Richmond and will walk at lunch to get outdoors.  It was May 1st, 2014. As I walked I stopped and listened to a man talking about fighting the good fight, finishing the race, and keeping the faith.  It was the annual National Day of Prayer and I realized quickly it was David Gallagher, who had just lost his daughter Cameron less than 2 months prior after she crossed the finish line at the Shamrock Half Marathon in Virginia Beach on March 16, 2014; it was discovered that she had an undiagnosed heart arrhythmia.  As I listened, and having children of my own, I thought how did that Dad muster the strength to encourage so many of us listening when he is hurting from such a tremendous loss of his daughter?  As I learned more about Cameron’s story, her dream of a new tomorrow, and what she stood for, I realized that he had her by his side that day and always.  It was as if she hugged him around the waist, as daughters do with their dads when they are younger, as he spoke and reassured him, in her own words that:

“You are worth it all.” -Cameron Gallagher

Having witnessed from the beginning Cameron’s dream become faith in action, and getting to know Dave over the years since Cameron ran her last mile in life where The Mission at Mile 12 began, I thought it would be insightful to hear from him, Cameron’s Dad.  When we sat down in his office at Dominion Payroll (in chairs made out of skis overlooking Scott’s Addition and the office pool table, incredibly cool Dave!), it was simply a couple of Dads talking about the love they have of being Dads, what we have learned from our kids, and learning from each other. We shared both laughs and tears, sharing joys and pains. I felt that opening up about Cameron, being her Dad, and the story of SpeakUp, would ‘pay it forward’ for so many other parents/siblings/friends who are struggling right now on how to deal with a loved one who suffers from this invisible illness as it has no borders or economic boundaries.

Family Dynamics, we all have them

Cameron is one of five siblings for Dave and his wife, Grace Gallagher.  As I have learned with three of my own, two of whom are daughters, each child has their own DNA.  We both know there is something about a daughter that adds another dimension to a man’s soul, as it has done for both of ours.  It softens and adds tenderness yet at the same time makes it more valiant and protective; a daughter’s eyes can melt a father’s heart.

When it came to being her Dad, it took way north of half of Dave’s (and Grace’s) parenting energy from when she turned twelve (when her depression and anxiety was first noticed) and on up. And they have four other kids.  Though her siblings came to understand the situation, there was a yearning for a more evenly distributed parental energy pattern.

Dave cherished his time with Cameron, she was awesome to be around and her words were captivating; she was wise beyond her years in many respects. Having read her quotes and positive notes she wrote to herself to cope with her depression, I can certainly see it.  When it came to parenting Cameron, it was akin to driving a Ferrari that was slightly out of control; she struggled in school and there were days she did not want to talk to anyone and they did not know what was going to happen or what she would say. She had a small group of friends and Dave conveyed she did not think in a linear way (i.e. in order to do this, you need to do this), it was more seeing a problem or issue and wanting to jump right in and do something about it.

As her depression and anxiety became more pronounced, it was thought she would get over it and he tried to convince her to do so.  After all, with a roof over your head and meals, it is hard for us to understand what is there to be depressed about?  What Cameron taught her Dad during this time is that parents underestimate the way mental health is viewed as the pain they are dealing with is worse than grief itself.  His learning was to offer love and support, and be there for her with the realization it was her battle.  He wished there were more family centered programs with others they can relate to in order to help navigate this dark road.  From this experience, Dave now leads groups of other Dads that are dealing with this issue in their children.

So, when was SpeakUp first spoken about?

Cameron was one to honor herself, and she fought the good fight of fighting her depression.  She was an avid swimmer.  Dave always woke her up at 4:06 am and out the door at 4:13am.  She also decided to train for the Shamrock Half Marathon and as she ran more and more, it made her feel fantastic.  On a training run with her Dad and Mom in January 2014, she talked about this idea with both of them.  Their response was to give it a throttle, which is a natural response from parents.  In essence “Are you sure Cameron, you want to raise this stigma and flag?” Her response was in essence: ‘Mom, Dad…this is exactly why we need it’; it is ‘go big or go home.’ The need and awareness around reducing the stigma is there and when Cameron goes all in on something, it is huge, rather than a small test the neighborhood kind of idea.  You know what, she was right.  We can all be reassured, as I have been and wrote a letter to her, that it is ok to not be ok.

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” Brene Brown  

This was the greatest gift she gave to her Dad, having a clear sense of mission and purpose.  Dave realized that though he did have purpose before he lost Cameron, it was unguided, not centered, more agitated and he felt compelled more than passion fueled.

What a gift, Cameron.  Kids teach adults too, especially what is to be valued.

The weekend of March 14-16, 2014

There was not a dry eye for either of us as Dave shared about the day Cameron ran her last mile in life.  They had been in a difficult spot with her before the race, however she was really happy the week leading up it.  They had a wonderful family dinner the night before, and on race day she and her best friend, Abby Donelson, were up early and ready to go. The excitement was contagious.  After they saw them both off at the start, Dave and Grace rode up to Mile 3 and both Cameron and Abby looked great and running strong. They then saw them at Mile 10, and Cameron looked fatigued and thought it was to be expected.  They awaited at the finish and spotted them 300 yards out as they ran down the boardwalk next to the Atlantic Ocean towards the finish.

She crossed the finish line with Abby and was very disoriented, and came over to her parents.  She put her arm around her Dad, and she fell.  He caught her and held on to her with his arms around her head and back thinking that she fainted, which she had done before.  Dave and Grace were not sure what was going on, fortunately there was a paramedic right close by and they took a look and put her on a gurney.  They then started doing CPR, and then took her to the ambulance to go to the hospital.  All were in a state of disbelief, it was if time stopped and went in massive increments.

Grace went in the ambulance with Cameron, Dave in a car with Abby’s family.  As he went into the hospital, and the doors opened, he saw six to seven doctors in the room and blood on Cameron’s shirt.  It was then that it hit him, she is gone. From her Dad’s arms to her heavenly Father’s.

“Do you know what hurts so very much? It’s love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked that means pain. There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill that love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies, too. Or we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel.” – Corrie Ten Boom

It was heartwarming and brave for Dave to share this pain and scar with me, and I thought about the wisdom above of Corrie Ten Boom.  It was as if Cameron’s life and story was the baton when she fell into her Dad’s arms and it was passed to her parents to open another route and their love for her to travel.

How Pain became Purpose

Dave and Grace got back home to Richmond, which seemed so different than they ever expected or imagined. They went in their house, and could not go there. It took a while, a week and a half to be exact. Namely, into Cameron’s room. When they did, it was how she had left it with all that was familiar that reminded them of her, they longed to relive the moments with Cameron that happened there from childhood to her teenage years, even just one more time.

What they did not know is what the pile of papers was on her desk.  And then they looked through it, and realized what it was.  It was the plan to Speak Up, including letters to potential sponsors, speakers, and the vision. Before she died, Cameron was also promoting her idea of SpeakUp on social media and was organizing a SpeakUp 5k through a campaign. The press was asking if they were going to go ahead.

Dave then heard from his Dad, Tom Gallagher, who conveyed he got a phone call.  He was informed that a foundation has been setup and donation checks had been pouring in.

He then read what Cameron’s speech would have been:

“Ladies and gentlemen this young girl is now nearly fully recovered from depression. This young girl is me. If it weren’t for you guys running for what I suffered from and what so many people around the world struggle with, I would be stuck back in what I thought was an interminable tunnel. No matter how we feel, it is the love and support of those we surround ourselves with that gets us through the days.” – Cameron Gallagher, taken from the speech she wanted to give at her inaugural SpeakUp5k.

It was if Cameron was saying to her Mom and Dad: “Get Up, Speak Up, and take this baton and run with it!”

That other route for their love for her was being presented and opened; a beacon of hope for a world full of “Cameron’s”.

Growth and how SpeakUp continues to SpeakUp

The reduction of the stigma has been huge.  It is hard tireless work, yet Dave and Grace are fueled by their love for Cameron and the world full of “Cameron’s”.  I have experienced this firsthand, as when I went to Singapore in 2016 (where I was raised) and inquired at the schools I attended if they wanted to learn about SpeakUp. It was a resounding yes and next thing I know I was making two presentations to hundreds of students. There are no borders when it comes to Depression and Anxiety.

When it comes to growth, first and foremost, Dave wants to make sure it is done the right way and is natural, sustainable, and not forced.  As in running, pace matters.

For anyone wondering how to get involved with SpeakUp?  Presently there are SpeakUp 5Ks in Richmond, Tampa, Nashville, Metro Washington DC, and San Diego.  Volunteering at one of their events is always welcome.  There are also workshops for parents and kids on mental wellness and mindful living, that can be used for various audiences (e.g. school assembly, health class, guidance counselors, teachers, community groups, etc).

Ways to get involved can be found on the CKG Foundation website.

Seeing through the eyes of another

I’m convinced that the world would be a better place if we apply what Cameron reminded us.  What if we saw the world through the eyes of another, such as Cameron, and envision the deeper connection that comes from understanding.  We would understand better where they are coming from and vice versa;  personally and professionally.   Having grown up in Asia, I experienced that understanding and relating to friends from other cultures, backgrounds, and countries helped me walk in others shoes.

So, what if we put our hearts into others, shared each other’s experiences, be there for one another, empathize during tough times, and rise up (SpeakUp) for the common good of others.

Songwriter John Ondrasik does this well and conveys what Cameron stood for and her legacy by asking What if:

 

Dave, and Grace, grateful for you.  As are so many others.

Thank you for taking the baton and running with it.  Cameron is saving lives, and your love for her is fueling others to SpeakUp.

Let’s continue to Fight the Good Fight, Keep the Faith, and Finish the Race.

Until Next Time,

Ed

 


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